01/08/2013 6:45PM

2012 Eclipse Awards: Questing

photo by: Barbara D. Livingston

After close finishes in two turf stakes in her native England, and a respectable fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies for trainer John Gosden, it was clear Questing had some ability as a 2-year-old in 2011. But as the 2012 racing season neared its halfway point, she had run twice on grass for Kiaran McLaughlin, and each time had finished out of the money as the favorite.

Then, on a Sunday afternoon at Belmont Park, everything changed in 1:34 – the time it took the Darley Stable homebred to demolish a field of allowance fillies on the main track.

“When she was second at Newmarket, I stood right there with [Sheikh Mohammed] and said, ‘This filly should go to America. That’s going to be her scene,’ ” Gosden recalled. “She’s bred for it – she’s a Hard Spun filly. They did finally switch her to the dirt, and she’s done very well, obviously.”
She earned a 105 Beyer Speed Figure in her breakthrough race, making it the fastest race of the season by a 3-year-old filly at a mile or more to that point.

“She was close to going home,” said McLaughlin. “If she didn’t handle the dirt in that allowance race, she probably would have been retired.”
Instead, stardom beckoned. Questing ran next in the Coaching Club American Oaks on the first Saturday at Saratoga, and despite drifting out through the stretch under 19-year-old Irad Ortiz Jr., she was far enough in front that it didn’t matter. She coasted home an easy winner, giving Ortiz his first win in a graded stakes.

Four weeks later, Questing was asked to carry her speed the classic distance of 1 1/4 miles in the Alabama. She turned in a performance for the ages, running the opening six furlongs in an eye-popping 1:09.74.

“Going so fast I can’t feel it,” said Ortiz afterward.

Remarkably, Questing did not grow leg-weary from her early exertions, but widened her advantage with every stride while ducking in and out, and flashed under the wire first by nine breathtaking lengths.

“Since I’ve been training, that was one of the most impressive performances I’ve ever had,” remarked McLaughlin. “It was ‘Wow.’ That’s what we all felt.”

Questing caught a quirky track in the Cotillion at Parx Racing after that, and despite running a slow opening half-mile in 50 seconds, she was edged by 2011 Eclipse champion My Miss Aurelia after a pitched battle.

“We looked great going along in 50 to the half,” said McLaughlin, “but you know 50 for the half is not normal for Grade 1 horses, and we had to give [My Miss Aurelia] seven pounds.”

Questing was pulled up early in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic, and was found to have suffered a contusion that caused her left eye to close.

After undergoing minor surgery to have a chip removed from a hind ankle, she was scheduled to rejoin McLaughlin in Florida to prepare for a 4-year-old campaign. One can only imagine what a fully mature Questing might be capable of then.